Oct. 12, 2021

14. Mangla (M) Bansal


Hear from M (Mangla) Bansal, CEO and Founder of the Sustainable Life App. In this episode, we learn how M’s experience in witnessing child labour and injustice at an early age inspired her move into the world of Tech to advance sustainability. Make sure to listen to the end of the episode for bonus material.

You can find out more about M, and the Sustainable Life App here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/manglabansal/
Website: https://www.sustainablelife.app/
Email: m@sustainablelifeapp.com
Instagram: @sustainablelifeapp 

A transcription of each episode, as well as guest profiles and much more, is available on our website www.sondership.com

Credits
Title music - Buddha by Kontekst https://soundcloud.com/kontekstmusic
Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0
Free Download or Stream: http://bit.ly/2Pe7mBN
Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/b6jK2t3lcRs 

Transcript

Mangla:

We are slowly building, we just launched March 2020, right in the beginning of COVID. So it was funny because right after we launched, we started getting negative reviews on apple and Android and people were just like, what a great concept, but poor execution, nothing in my area. And we'd be like, we just launched last month. Like, could you give us a minute?

Danny:

Welcome to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host, Danny Attias. The Sondership podcast is all about hearing inspiring stories from people with purpose and today's person with purpose is Mangla Bansal, known to her friends and you as M. M is the founder of Sustainable Life app, and we're going to hear all about what Sustainable Life App is in a moment, but she's also a documentary and lifestyle TV director, and producer turned tech entrepreneur. Who better to share more about M than M, herself. Welcome to the Sondership podcast.

Mangla:

Thank you so much, Danny. I'm so happy to be here with you.

Danny:

And you're not alone. You're also here with Pedro Bansal, who hopefully, if people look in the right place, you might see a little picture of this gorgeous little puppy.

Mangla:

Yes, his name is Pedro. I actually named him Pedro from the movie Napoleon Dynamite, if anybody's ever watched it. So his hashtag on Instagram is built for Pedro. And if there are any social causes that need a shout out, put the hashtag vote for Pedro and he'll reshare it for you, but he's a really great puppy, very well behaved, and he's joining us and yes, my name is M. So you asked me to share a little bit more about myself. I'm basically a Canadian, you can probably tell from my kind accent, and I'm a south Asian woman, so born and raised in Canada, two immigrant parents from India, absolutely brilliant human beings. My mum is probably my biggest hero. She has a disability. She can't hear properly. But I've gotten my empathy from her and my ability to communicate properly. I learned from her because she really needed me to kind of be her voice when I was growing up. So I actually, I taught her how to, read and write in English, so I would go to school and I'd come home and, whatever I learned at school that day I would teach my mom. And then my mom learned the alphabet from me. And then when I was learning sentences, I taught my mom sentences. So, I actually I'm feel so blessed to have my parents because like what a unique, upbringing I received because of it.

Danny:

Love that! The Sondership podcast is based on this concept of sonder It's the feeling that sense when you realize that everyone has got their own story. So we'd like to open these discussions with you, sharing your earliest or most memorable some the moment.

Mangla:

I love that you asked that question. My biggest defining moment. I would say, where I kind of had a full encompassing human experience of like happy moments, sad moments and big realizations as a child was, when I went to India with my parents, I must have been about eight years old and I got to stay at my aunt's house who was probably about a 15 to 20 minute car ride away from my parents' village. And I slept over there and I became really quick, best friends with the little girl who was working in her home. Although, I didn't know she was like a child laborer in her home. I just thought she was like me, you know, like a family friend's daughter or something like that who was staying there. And we became friends, so we played every single day, and we had a great time and the parents sat me down one day and said, you can't play with her anymore. And I said, well, why? And they were like, well, she has to work. She has to help us wash the dishes, clean the floors. She can't play with you all day. And I was like, well, why, why can't you do that? You guys are adults we're kids, why are you making us do it? and I basically learned what child labor was at that moment. And, um, my parents and my aunt just said, you know, she's not like you. And I said, well, what does that mean? So they explained how she can't go to school, like how I do, and everything else. And my answer just continued to be why, why, why, why, why? and I ended up staying there maybe for another day or two, and I got to realize what that felt like to have your friend who was there to witness the conversation, the look on her face, the sadness that she experienced while she had to work. And I just had to sit there and watch TV for a couple of days. And, I asked my dad after I said, well, why can't you pay for her to get an education? Why can't you fix the situation for her? And he just kind of said, you know, this is just the way it is. Like if I did it for one person, doesn't mean I'm fixing it for everybody, and you just need to learn to live within the world and you need to understand how the world works, because Mangla, if you don't, you're not going to be successful in it. And I could not accept that answer. So he basically had to remove me from that situation and took us on a family trip after to Taj Mahal and Red Fort and everything else. And then, you know, straight to Delhi airport and then back to Canada, he did not bring me back into that situation, but it stuck with me. And I think that that experience has definitely been reflected on future experiences thereafter.

Danny:

There are so many different elements on that that I kind of want to pick at, but, one of them, we talk a lot about in this podcast is privilege. And, depending on your background and your circumstances, you know, we all have different types of privilege. And it's what we do with that privilege. And, and, you know, you called it out to your dad going, can't you pay for her education and, and that's one, one piece of the puzzle and actually telling a child that's the way the world is just live with it is a great way to get a child riled up and go, no, I'm going to change this. So, yay. So that's a good thing, but it is you eight years old, suddenly being confronted with your own extraordinary privilege, you know, in this context, chalk and cheese, black and white difference of this girl who to all intents and purposes is the same as you but actually as different as can be in terms of her opportunities and her privilege. That's really interesting.

Mangla:

And not getting like hugs at night from her mom. Like she was in a different village or city completely.

Danny:

So she's on her own, she's not even the daughter of the housekeeper who is working she's oh God.

Mangla:

And I didn't know that. So I realized that after I had left that situation, oh, what her mom was in a different village all along. How far away is it? What, like three days to get there. And then you're going around the rest of the country and you see even more extreme and worse child labor. You see beggars on the street and it, it really sticks with you as a kid.

Danny:

Yeah. I know as an adult, at least as a westerner visiting the country, clearly, if you grow up in that way and you have cast systems and you have your hierarchy and, you don't have social welfare. It's a very different state of mind. And I've only been to India once, about 15 years ago. And it was mostly in Mumbai and it was working. I had a team out in Mumbai, but you would see the extraordinary difference between the Four Seasons hotel and the slum across the road from the four seasons hotel. Just going, how is, how is this imbalance of equity? Just how is that right. It's really fascinating but I wanna, I want to hear it a little bit more about your story. So you came back, you were eight years old, you're back in Canada. What happened next? Not eight, nine years old, but did you go to university? As you grew into a young adult, how did, how did all this grow with you?

Mangla:

Well, it definitely helped shape me a lot. I mean, I've always been interested in media as a kid, so I would watch cartoons and, you know, watch the newscaster on TV, and I would think, okay, one day I'm going to grow up and I'm going to do that. Or I'd watch Bollywood films and say, oh, one day, I'm going to grow up and do that. I always knew that media was going to be a part of it, but then that experience really shaped me. So when I went into high school, I actually became a human rights activist and I was a part of so many groups, the Red Cross, Free the Children with Craig Kielburger's organization, Amnesty International and probably about four others. I was just a part of everything. I was researching for the Down's Syndrome research society or not researching, sorry, volunteering for them. And my father was just like, what is going to happen with this child? I was expected to be a lawyer, because of my mouthiness to my parents and my dad would always say at parties, you know, she's going to grow up and she's going to be a lawyer. When she comes into the room, the judge is going to say, oh God, it's her, you know, and I would, I was always so scared to share with him I want to go into media because in the Indian culture, you have to be an engineer or a doctor, or, you know, a lawyer or some, some respectable, um, profession. So I actually decided to scare my dad a little bit more. By introducing him to, a profession he would know nothing about, so he used to drive us to school in the morning. So I said to him, Hey dad, like, I'm thinking about going into fashion, cause I've been taking sewing classes. Like, what do you think? And he was like, I need some time to think about it. So, you know, like probably after like the third or fourth day I brought it up again and he was like, okay, but you have to learn it properly and you have to study hard or something like that. And I was like, okay, if I can win him over with this, which is like worse than media, maybe he'll say, maybe, he'll say yes. So I.

Danny:

Maybe to, uh, to watch episodes of Ugly Betty to figure out what that was all going to be about.

Mangla:

I don't know if it was out then, but I did introduce them to the idea of it, and they were completely against it and, my mom was against it, my dad was against it and then my uncle and aunt also raised me, so my aunt was against it and I convinced my uncle somehow. And he stood behind me. So my father basically said, I'm not going to support you financially, figure it out on your own. And if you can make this happen then God bless type of a thing, but you don't get my support in any way, shape or form. So I ended up getting a student loan and doing it on my own. And it was the scariest thing in the world for a kid to do, because I had to actually knock on my teacher's door and say like, hi, Ms. McDonald like the worst has happened. And I think she thought I was pregnant or something, but when I told her what it was, she was like, you can do this people before you have done this. So I did it. and I went to school and I got on the Dean's list. And when I graduated from,

Danny:

Yep. Just to clarify. That's a good thing, right?

Mangla:

That's a very good thing. Yes. The Dean of the school is like the head of the school. So if you get on the Dean's list, you're like you're doing a phenomenal job in your class

Danny:

Okay. It sounds like you got on the naughty list. Like.

Mangla:

Oh, no, I got on the Dean's list of honor and my very first project for school, I actually went to India and I interviewed, my goal was to interview three people. So one was Kailash Satyarthi who later won the Nobel peace prize with Malala Yousafzai, uh, the second was Vandana Shiva who's a world renowned activist. And then the third was the Dalai Lama, and I got interviews booked with all three.

Danny:

Wow.

Mangla:

So, yeah. You know, so I get on a plane as like a 19 year old at this point, and I'm off to like ask them out, like, in your opinion, how can we reasonably and logically end child labor? Because I was just so determined to end child labor and I was going to make a documentary and that documentary was going to tell us the answer and we were going to change the world together. Like I just, I thought I could do it. So, um, first interview was with Vandana Shiva. And, she's a very brilliant woman. And, you know, I really learned a lot about environmentalism through her about organic farming, et cetera. But her answer was a bit of like an angry one and I was more of like a Gandhi Ahimsa type girl. So for her, it was like, you have to get into the streets. I mean, you have to protest. And that's how you create real change. And I was like, huh, rise up. Yes. So now that I understand it a little bit more with the Black Lives Matter movement, but back then, I was just like, there has to be a better way to do it than just like fight, the corporate, you know, man type of a thing. And then I went and I interviewed Kailash Satyarthi and his answer was more about education. And then, you know, I dug deeper. I was like, how would you fund it? Where would you get the money from? How are you going to change your corrupt government? You live in India, walk me through each and every single molecule of your plan. Like you're Kailash Satyarthi you must have had this figured out by now. And he was just like, whoa, whoa, whoa. 18,19 year old kid, like thank you for holding me accountable, but like, this is how we could reasonably do it. It would take about 10 years. And obviously within those 10 years that it wasn't accomplished, what we were hoping, but he obviously won the Nobel peace prize later and such a brilliant person. And with the Dalai Lama, I was going to interview him. And the night before I interviewed him, his press officer called me and said, we have to cancel your interview. I can't tell you why, but, it's not just you we're canceling interviews for the next three months, even with people like ABC, et cetera. And I said, well, tell me something. So I had to, just end up filming his audience, which is you get to film him speaking in his native language type of a thing. So I had no idea what was going on, but a couple months later, I was still in India at the time. And I was reading the Punjab Kesari and the date before I was scheduled to interview him, they had reported in that article that there was a Chinese, alleged Chinese spy that was discovered in his ministry in one, as one of the monks. So I actually ended up calling his press officer afterwards, Tamsin, and being like, is this why you canceled my interview? And he was like, well, yes, that's why I canceled your interview, but I couldn't tell you that. So I was like, okay, this all makes sense now. But I came back from that trip, just kind of feeling like I couldn't complete the film because I didn't have the answer. So I ended up shelving the film and then the next many years of my life was just spent in trying to prove to my family that I made the right choice to enter media. So I just kind of started to work in lifestyle, television, reality TV, in various different roles. And Yeah after 10, 15 years, I kind of reached the point in my life where I was happy and I had to go back and I guess try to complete that film again, but it had changed since.

Danny:

I love that story. And there's a couple of things here. So one, you've got a Chinese spy and M and, you know, there's a James Bond theme story waiting to come out, but more importantly when you worked in lifestyle media and reality TV, how much of that was, kind of true to your core, true to your purpose. Did you feel you're able to have influence make a difference in any of that or actually, no, it's a job and I enjoyed it and I got joy out of it and I made a living out of that.

Mangla:

You know, you want your work to mean something and you try to make it mean something. So every once in a while you would have a really amazing story, like the, I think what finally made me want to go back and finish making the film was I was doing this big reality TV show. We were shooting in Canada and LA and London, and a bunch of different places. And it was actually friends of Kim Kardashian's. So the person who handles Kim Kardashian's Instagram account, I was doing good reality TV show on her, and her cousin. and I was one of the producers for it. And, they assigned me the story where, one of the lead characters, she has an adopted sister and it was believed that her adopted sister's biological mother had a child before they had her. And I had to find this long, lost child, if it even existed and I had to make it all happen within five weeks in this reality TV show. So when I approached the governments and said, look, here's the birth certificate of this woman who passed away. We're trying to see if she gave birth to a child. Can you help me out? They said, well, it usually paperwork takes about a year. And when you're a producer in reality TV, you can make the impossible happen. And, I made it happen. So I reached out to two governments of one of the governments. I was able to find this long lost sister. We were able to have this long lost sister meet her other sister on reality TV. And it was the most beautiful moment. And then I did one other beautiful moment for that show too, but the show itself was not something that brought betterment into the world in any other way. So I kind of sat back after that experience going, wow, I've done the impossible and people have given me a pat on the back and I've reached this point in my career that I've always wanted, but why does it feel so empty? So, that's when I kind of stopped and I went okay. Well I have one life. Let's just say for some reason, if this life was going to end soon, like what would I want to leave doing? What would make me proud? So I just thought, you know, I think the answer lies in completing the film that I started. The child labor one. So I tried to rework the storyline and I was going to go back to India. Finally, meet the Dalai Lama, get the answer, but I was like, I'm not an 18 year old who thinks that a documentary is going to change the world anymore. It could impact some change, but not like change the world or like create real change. What could, so I sat down and I thought, okay, what would the documentary look like today if I were to do it, it's not just about child labor anymore. So what matters to me? So I thought about consumption in general. And what are the factors that go into consumption? The first for me was impact on human health because I had lost my sense of smell for five years and after getting a surgery and getting it back, I realized that like the inflammation in my body had come from a lot of the products that I was consuming. Skincare, even the clothes that I wear, the chemicals that go into them, et cetera.

Danny:

I wanted to dive a little deeper about how that made you feel having had something that you've taken for granted all your life and then suddenly you've lost it and then how that changed your perspective.

Mangla:

You know, it was strange. It's like I just woke up one day and my sense of smell was gone and every single time I would go to the doctors, they would just say, it's normal, it's just allergies. But you know, when you have a full year where you haven't smelled and then you reach year two, and then you reach year three, by year five I was just infuriated. Because hearing it's just allergies over and over and over again, and being, given nose spray wasn't enough. And I kept asking to see a specialist and they just wouldn't let me see a specialist. They would say no, it's, it's not what you think it is. So I sat down, in my doctor's office and I looked at him and I said, you can call the cops if you want, but I'm not going to get up off of this chair unless you book an appointment for me to see a specialist, this isn't just allergies. So he finally took me seriously, which is ridiculous that I had to go for five years and when I went to the specialist office, he told me that it indeed was a sinusitus. They did a CT scan and the disease had gone so far that it was reaching close to my brain soon. So he said if it was another year, it could have become like a disabling disease. So we had to operate pretty much right away and you know, long story short, they cleaned me out and he said, I can't guarantee you will get your sense of smell back. But I got it back within three weeks and I've been so happy. But, having that experience definitely showed me that, I have to look very closely at what I consume and the products that I was using. I mean, it's the food, you eat, I guess that creates inflammation. Everything we eat affects us as well. But, the skincare was a really big eye awakener for me. So like my shampoo, learning about all of the things that, go into the shampoo, my lotions, my, my face washes. And I recently learned last year that like receipt paper, I was one of those people that would hoard receipts. And then every single April I would do my taxes and I would have like receipts all around me. And I would have two days where I would just be handling receipts all the time and learning about how, disphenals are in receipts and those impact our hormones. And I was actually having hormone problems throughout my life as well. So like learning about all of these products. And how these products could actually be dangerous. Maybe not in small quantities, but when you add it all together and it's all going into your body, it is very toxic. So, you know, that's kind of why impact on human health is so important for me because when we think about consumption usually, we, as humans need it to affect us in some way, shape or form for us to actually make change. So I had learned that lesson the hard way. Everybody has their own values when it comes to consumption, because we all have our own personal blueprint of the world. You know, you have your Tunisian background, but you were raised in the UK. What does that look like? And I'm sure it looks very different from someone who's grown up in Tunisia with their particular values compared to, you know, somebody in the southern US and maybe they're hunters and they have their own values. So I created these five factors for sustainable consumption is when I ended up calling it. I thought, woah, what a cool documentary series? I think I'm gonna go ahead and I'm going to explore this. And then I sat back and I was like but I just answered my question about an hour ago, documentaries can't change the world. What could, so then I sat down and I, like, I drafted up this mobile app and I was like, what if we can make sustainable living easy? What would that look like? So I want to be able to find businesses that I can actually support who have the products that are ethically made. And what does that look like and how many categories would that have and what would that map look like? And how would I do this? And I just drew it all down. And then I went to the app stores after, I looked to see if it's, something like that, existed and it didn't. And I was like, oh shoot. I think I'm going to have to go back to kindergarten. And I'm going to have to create this mobile app and learn how to do it. So that's where I am now.

Danny:

I can relate very much to your feelings and your journey. I've always tried to minimize my own footprint, kind of maximize sustainability and then when I look around it's convenience that always gets in people's way, generally that they, are happy. They think saving the world is a really good thing provided they're not inconvenienced by that, provided they can still drive there or enjoy that meal or buy new dresses or new t-shirts and new trainers

Mangla:

And it's budget friendly.

Danny:

And you can either try and educate, which only really gets so far cause as much knowledge. I mean, we eat animals, I don't, I'm sure you don't, but, you don't need education to know what happens between the cuddly sheep in the field and the lamb on your plate. You know, those great documentaries about, uh, black fish and, Okja and all of those. Do you know who watches them, vegans that's who watches them? Right?

Mangla:

It's turned some people vegan though. Like I've heard some stories where people have watched the films and they're like, okay, that made me want to change.

Danny:

It's small fry. Uh, but if you put this amazing vegan burger, but you just can't tell it's a vegan burger Then they go, that's great. Well then I'll just have this burger. That's fine. I don't have to change anything, but then you're dramatically reducing it. But the trick is how do you find those things? Even the concept of your app, the Sustainable Life app is already pretty exciting. I'm in the UK. You're in Canada. So what are your expansion plans? What are your international domination plans M?

Mangla:

Amazing. So, we actually built the app, we launched it March, 2020, and of course we put our focus on Canada because that's where we are, but we built it to be a worldwide, usable app. So you as a user, you can actually add the coffee shop down the street to the app for free. All you have to do is just, there's an add a business button at the bottom rate, and you could put down their address, put down their name and it automatically adds itself to our directory. And obviously you can list why you're nominating them to be a sustainable business on the app. We're slowly expanding to the rest of the world, but we do have plans for growth. I mean, I'm sure you've spoken to a lot of tech entrepreneurs and their journeys, but this app is completely self-funded by me, but we are very blessed in the last eight months the Canadian government has given us over $160,000 in government.

Danny:

Oh,

Mangla:

About 95% of that has gone towards staffing, which is, a great blessing. But, I have gotten about 5% of that, which is now being allocated towards marketing as well. So we're definitely going to grow really strong in one region and then expand. And then we have a lot of other punts for innovation as well. So for example, we're going to be incorporating in a recycling database in the next six months. So a user anywhere in the world could type in a product and learn how to responsibly recycle it.

Danny:

Cause that's hard, that actually knowing, your glass bottles is one thing, but then what about this? Oh, I'll just put it in the bin because I don't really know what to do with that

Mangla:

Exactly. So we're going to be educating, and creating a universal database. You'll obviously still have to figure out what your local municipality, you know, which drop off center to take it to, or, et cetera, but we'll have the general, understanding of how to recycle it in there. So we're definitely trying to create a very easy and convenient tool for all users who have this conscious consumer value in them. And then also others who are just looking to start on the journey as well, supporting them on that.

Danny:

That's really great. I'm going to go straight in there and add my local vegan cafe. Ahimsa in Pinner. I'm going to get that added, so that we can get some UK, momentum going. So tell me, M, you're just making this pivot now. So.

Mangla:

Yeah.

Danny:

Had this awakening aged eight, uh, and that you had that kind of fire within you up to 18, and it's going, I'm going to get out there and change the world with the documentary and then you realized, oh, hold on, what am I going to do? How, how am I going to do that? So what M is doing in another 10 years? Well, who knows, Right. Who knows, but I know one thing you'll be doing something that is going to be making the difference, that's what you'll be doing. What's what's on your horizon for the next couple of years. Is it just growing this and just investing yourself and Canadian government money to continue to, to grow it?

Mangla:

Yes, we're now at a point, so the app is obviously earning revenue, but it's not earning enough to exceed our expenses at this stage. So, my next few months are going to be dedicated towards that, and we're going to be reaching out to a lot more school sustainability groups. So my next few years are going to be definitely spent towards this app, getting it out, doing the marketing, continuing with innovation. And we hope that it becomes a tool that we all use regularly. And if I'm being really honest, I want to continue to innovate with it because I don't want to just stop and create one thing and move on to the next thing. You know, obviously you didn't want to use the word purpose in life, but I definitely feel like I have found mine because I wake up in the morning and I feel very centered.

Danny:

Yeah.

Mangla:

So, you know, going back to that original story, like I'm a young woman born in Canada, I have the opportunity to be able to do this. That in and of itself is a beautiful thing and I wake up every day grateful that I can do it and then I just asked the universe for the strength to basically, hopefully make it happen.

Danny:

M, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story and telling us more about Sustainable Life app. We will include links to it in the show notes afterwards. If anyone wants to find out more, how can they follow you? Get in touch, where should they go? What should they do next?

Mangla:

Sure, they can reach out, on email. So my email is just m@sustainablelifeapp.com. But definitely check out our website, sustainable life.app, and then download the app on Apple and Android, it's completely free, add some businesses in your area that you feel are phenomenal and get them supported.

Danny:

Excellent, there's a challenge. Everyone listening to this episode, download the app, find three local sustainable businesses and add them.

Mangla:

Yes.

Danny:

M, thank you so much for being on the Sondership podcast.

Mangla:

Thank you.

Danny:

There's lots of opportunities happening all over the world, but even for your own growth and your own development, ask that next generation that's coming down the line. What do they want to see and come up with the ideas and, you know, get the smart ones, developing some stuff for you

Mangla:

Yeah for sure,

Danny:

a, there's an opportunity

Mangla:

Yeah. If any of them are looking for internship opportunities, give me a call. Find us on Instagram.

Mangla Bansal

CEO & Founder

M (Mangla) Bansal is the Founder of Sustainable Life App - a free map-based app connecting conscious consumers with sustainable businesses and brands in their area. M is a documentary and lifestyle TV Director/Producer turned tech entrepreneur.